I have a bunch of things I turn to when I want to add a bit of flare to my meals. Though some of them I do not use every day, I consider some must-have in my kitchen. They are not only tasty but transform an otherwise normal/boring dish into something very delicious.
Last week Wednesday on Instagram, my instaFam and I were discussing about the ingredients we like most in the kitchen. While it was nearly impossible to single out just one, there were some ingredients that were of common to all of us. Read the entire interactive conversation here. I shall take you through some of my (and some of my readers’) pantry essentials and why my I (we) deem them so important.
*Side Note* : I had so much fun taking these pictures and was so stocked with how they turned out. Improvement is a good thing :))
Despite having a difficult time choosing which ingredient I like best, I settled on garlic due to the power it has when it comes to transforming meals from drab to fab. Its taste and aroma make the food so distinctly delicious and it very healthy too. It is a mandatory ingredient while marinating my chicken and fish. Not only that, cooking meat with garlic lifts that pungent raw meat smell and infuses pleasant taste. This quality best shows when cooking matumbo where the garlic not only adds taste, but lifts the inherent smell that tripe has. It also pairs well with other ingredients. During our Instagram discussion, @suebaibe @cutiememy @dee_aluso @myckie254 and @cynthia.amutalla also thought garlic as a very important pantry ingredient.
In my mind, ginger is the sister to garlic. Not in terms of appearance or taste but in terms of their intensity and how they make good pairing together. Just like garlic, ginger has a distinct strong yet appealing taste. Its taste can be very strong and in my own experience, a little goes a long way. Ginger goes well with rice dishes and is mandatory in dishes such as jollof and pairs well with meat dishes. Ginger that is simmered down slowly with some water and lemon yields a soothing warm drink that is effective in elevating cold and flu. Among my instaFam, @fridzwegi and @wendiepetite regard ginger as a key pantry essential.
3. Black Pepper White Pepper
I find my peppers as essential to my cooking as salt is. And @chefmartinmuhia and @suebaibe hold the same sentiments. Pepper amplifies the taste of every single ingredient in a dish. Using pepper also saves you from otherwise having a flat dish. The two spices come from the same plant, but the difference in color comes about from how they are processed. Some people feel that these two taste the same, but in my opinion, white pepper is slightly stronger. I like using black pepper for everyday cooking, but turn to white pepper when I want my food to have that peppery taste but without black speckles everywhere like in this soup.
4. Cayenne, Chilli, Curry & Turmeric
There are those spices you can use and will totally transform a meal. One is chili and one chilli enthusiast amongst my Instagram followers is @deealuso and @fidelismungara. If I do not have fresh chili, chili powder always adds an interesting kick to food. I am not into really hot food, but a small amount of heat makes food more appealing. My favorite alternative to chili is cayenne pepper, which I feel adds heat to food but is less aggressive compared to chili. While warming left overs, I like sneaking in some cayenne among many other ingredients and sometimes this makes the food taste like freshly cooked if not transformed. This is what I do with left over nyamchom.
Other intense spices that transform a dish are curry and turmeric. Their most distinct quality is the color they add to food. Instead of using food color, use turmeric which is natural to add color to your viazi karai, potato wedges and to your rice. As for curry, I use it mainy with bean dishes, such as githeri, where it compliments the taste of the beans and adds an appealing and more appetizing color.
5. Coriander & Green Bell Pepper
I cannot imagine not cooking without these two. Ever faithful and almost, ever present in my dishes is coriander. Not only does it add flavor to the food, but injects a burst of freshness. It also often serves the purpose of a garnish which adds visual appeal and color to the dish. (SEE here, here and here) Food has to look good, after all, we eat with our eyes first. and coriander will save the day with regards to that.They are delicate and get spoilt pretty fast. To keep them longer, keep them refrigerated in a clear plastic bag.
Green bell pepper adds a pleasant taste to most meals and pairs well with onions and garlic when fried. Besides taste, they also add color to food and texture which makes the eating experience a lot more pleasant. Other variations to green bell pepper that I like are the red ones which are alot sweeter and milder. Because of the color, it makes it easy to transform a dish from plain looking to fantasticly appealing. I used red bell pepper in this salad and in this rice dish. But because green bell pepper are cheaper and alot more common here, they are a staple in my pantry.
6. Cumin seeds and spice
I cannot really pin point when I began using cumin, but I feel that was the most life changing decision I made. The seeds look like rice grains which still have their husks on. They are woody yet very fragrant and when cooked, they completely disintegrate and get incorporated into the food really well. I like frying them with my onions and they go especially well with beans and ngengu.
Perfect for marination, perfect for a soothing evening drink and amazingly good for adding some acidity to sauces and dips. For @chefmartinmuhia, lemons are his secret weapon when he wants to add a quick dash of flavor so he alwaya has some at hand for a quick spritz. I like having lemons around too.
8. Tomato Paste
@macynaliaka told me on Instagram that she considers tomato paste so important that she would rather miss anything else than have tomato paste not in her pantry. I relate to her love of tomato paste. I consider it the secret weapon to richly colored stews and thick soups. Wonder why this pea and potato stew has a deep color and is really thick? And why does this beef stew look so fab? Part of the reason has to do with tomato paste. When you use tomato paste, ensure to cook it down so that the flavor blossoms and the metallic taste of under cooked tomato paste is gotten rid of.
9. My dry herb-spices: Sage, Thyme, Rosemary and Basil
These are life savers. If you are looking for something that will make the food you serve so unique and so delicious, try using herbs in your food. If you do not have the shrubs growing in your yard, you can purchase the dried ones which work just as well. Sage and thyme are divine with meat dishes. I like my thyme with goat meat. @chefmartinmuhia regards thyme as his go-to herb. Rosemary is a mandatory while marinating my chicken and basil is a must for any dish with tomato sauces such as this spaghetti marinara. @cutiememy likes oregano too. I rarely use it and I feel I should begin to be more adventurous with it. You should too 🙂
We all have ingredients we deem important in the kitchen, and they vary for each one of us.
What are your kitchen pantry essentials? How do you use them?
Do tell below. I’d love to know :))